Is taking time to do research right for me?

23 May 2018

Is a professional development year right for me? Should I do research? What is the benefit? These were some of the questions raised during the last “hang-out” session hosted by the Resident and Associate Society of the American College of Surgeons (RAS ACS) on May 7th. “Hang-outs” are informal conference calls designed to help medical students navigate various aspects of surgery such as work-life integration, academic development years, residency interviewing tips and more. Our last discussion with the medical students got me thinking about the reasons I am spending (two or maybe three) years in the middle of general surgery residency dedicated to research: 1) a desire for an in-depth understanding of basic science research, and 2) to increase my probability of matching into the fellowship of my choice.

I’ve always had a passion for basic science research. As a chemistry major in college, I made Cisplatin, a cancer drug, from scratch and synthesized a novel metallo-organic framework that allowed me to explore the various applications of these frameworks: energy storage and drug delivery across the brain blood barrier. However, my research opportunities in college and medical school were limited in time generally lasting 3-6 months and lacked the structure that an advanced degree or dedicated research time provides. I craved the opportunity to learn to think like a scientist, ask a question, develop a hypothesis, perform the experiment and get an answer. I also wished to further understand and explore cancer biology to improve patient care. The second reason I signed up for academic development years is the promise of increasing my probability of matching into a Surgical Oncology fellowship. Surgical Oncology, like many fellowships, is a highly competitive subspecialty to match into, with 86 applicants in 2016 for 59 positions available for matching. Fellowship spots – like residency spots – have more applicants than positions available each year. Additionally, the 2016 National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Program Director Survey reported involvement and interest in research as one of the top 5 determining factors for matching into a fellowship.

There are a few key things to consider if professional development years are right for you, think about where you see yourself practicing in 10-15 years.
Do you see yourself in an academic, private or other type of practice?
Do you envision yourself doing any type of research, if so what type?
Do you wish to pursue an advanced degree?
Are you considering fellowship training, and what have previous applicants done to match in that fellowship?

If you answered yes to any of those questions or want more information, talk to senior residents who have done research, ask them about their publishing productivity. Did they have enough support from the faculty and program? Talk to your program director and other faculty, ask what projects if any they have available. Inquire about outside research opportunities and if your program would support you leaving the institution. If you are thinking about taking time for professional development, start planning early; find a mentor, create a timeline of what you wish to accomplish, draft a research proposal and plan. Find funding opportunities and ask for help when needed.

As I complete my first research year at the National Cancer Institute, I’ve honed my scientific skills to develop a hypothesis, ask unambiguous questions and develop a research plan to help answer these questions. I look forward to the next year as I continue my work in cancer therapeutics and refine my scientific skills.

Madeline B. Torres, M.D. is a general surgery resident at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA, currently completing a research fellowship in surgical oncology at National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Torres was born and raised in El Salvador. She immigrated to the United States with her mother and brother at the age of nine. She then went on to obtain her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Colorado at Denver and earned her medical degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine. She became involved with AWS during medical school after working with AWS members Amalia Cochran M.D. and Leigh Neumayer M.D. whom she considers mentors. Her academic interests include surgical education, surgical oncology, work-life balance, and encouraging women and minorities to pursue surgery and other careers in medicine.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *